There's plenty of information available on the Web about chemicals, but many of the sites are loaded with misinformation or bias. So which sites can you trust? STATS, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization affiliated with the George Mason University, recently polled toxicologists, and the results are pretty sobering. WebMD was the only source rated as accurate by the majority (56 percent) of toxicologists for covering the risks of chemicals. Second place went to Wikipedia (45 percent). Only 15 percent described similar coverage in the national print media as accurate. The survey isn't scientific, so take the results with a grain of salt, but it's interesting that toxicologists don't seem to be enamoured with the information available on the Web. I decided to check out what WebMD has to say about bisphenol A, since that chemical has been in the news headlines. The site had a few relevant links, including one list of FAQ on BPA. Here are a couple of the key questions and answers:
Is bisphenol A safe? That's a controversial question. An FDA draft report issued in August 2008 says bisphenol A is safe at typical exposure levels from food and drink. But another government report, from the National Toxicology Program, doesn't rule out safety risks and notes "some concern" about effects on the brain, prostate gland, and behavior in fetuses, infants, and children. The NTP's report, issued in September 2008, also notes "minimal concern" about effects on the mammary gland, early female puberty, and reproductive effects in adults who work with bisphenol A, and "negligible concern" about fetal or neonatal death, birth defects, reduced birth weight or grown in babies born to women exposed to bisphenol A during pregnancy, and reproductive effects in adults who don't work with bisphenol A. The American Chemistry Council, a trade group for the plastics industry, says bisphenol A is safe for typical consumer uses. What does the research say about bisphenol A? A study published in the Sept. 17, 2008 edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that adults with high levels of bisphenol A in their urine samples are more than twice as likely to report a history of heart disease or diabetes, compared to adults with low urinary levels of bisphenol A. That study was the first to show an association between higher urinary levels of BPA and health problems in human adults. But it doesn't prove that bisphenol A causes heart disease or diabetes, and the researchers caution that their findings need to be confirmed. Much of the other bisphenol A safety research has been done on rodents, which handle bisphenol A differently from humans. In those rodent studies, the greatest risk has been seen in developing fetuses and infants.How about environmental groups, and industry groups like the American Chemistry Council? Interestly, industry groups polled higher on the accuracy scale. Only 3 percent of the toxicologists polled consider Greenpeace to be an accurate source of information, for example, compared to 41 percent for ACC.